Sharp (Poetic) Turns
Voltage Poetry [has] been publishing a sharp series of short essays, for the most part on individual poems and how they use the traditional poetic volta or turn.
Sweet find here from the Uut Poetry tumblr : the Voltage site.
The Volta, or turn, is probably my favorite part of a poem. It’s the animating point, traditionally in sonnets, but in other/all forms of poetry since, where a poem moves from a flat description to a multi-dimensional ‘living thing’.
Whether through a change in thought direction, reason, or other, the poem comes alive in the volta and reveals itself. It gives the poem *snap*, like riding the Mind Scrambler at an amusement park (my favorite ride too) - the most exciting part is when your cart has slacked all the way out as far as it can, and a force snaps you shooting directly through the middle of other carts racing around.
An example of a volta in poetry would be like in Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night’ when after listing how wise men, wild men, good men, and grave men should rage against the dying of the light, Thomas takes us to the final stanza and opens it with an address to his own father (who was dying in real life)
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Damn! such grief and pain, huh? Without the volta, that address to a specific person, a father, his father, being so strong, will this poem still be so moving? Hard to say obviously - Thomas was a master - but I wish contemporary poets worked harder to craft closer to the volta. The charge would be terrific, even on Tumblr. When you hear a poem, or read a poem, and it animates your brain, or fortifies something in your beliefs, why not ask yourself why? Or even how? Why not work on your craft? It’s not homework. It’s not a bad thing, but can’t we all be better?
Here’s another good volta, moving from anger (waking up the dead) to piety (‘but let them sleep lord’); this time an old holy sonnet by John Donne:
At the round earth’s imagin’d corners, blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scatter’d bodies go;
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o’erthrow,
All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you whose eyes
Shall behold God and never taste death’s woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space,
For if above all these my sins abound,
‘Tis late to ask abundance of thy grace
When we are there; here on this lowly ground
Teach me how to repent; for that’s as good
As if thou’hadst seal’d my pardon with thy blood.